Life | Fine Flavours

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Fine Flavours
Text by Nisha Paul
Published: Volume 19, Issue 3, March, 2011

London’s elite chefs place the city as a global gastronomy capital. Winning a Michelin star is often looked upon as a life goal as it is the highest accolade in the European restaurant industry. Nisha Paul meets high-flying creators of mouth-watering delicacies, who have won not one but two of those coveted stars

Atul Kochhar
Chef-restaurateur, Atul Kochchar, either wakes up our senses on the television show, Saturday’s Kitchen or while beating celebrity chef Gary Rhodes on BBC’s cookery show, Great British Menu. Kochchar has reinvented Indian cuisine for the British palate and been instrumental in getting two Michelin stars, one each for restaurants Tamarind and Benares. Well known for creating unusual combinations in his recipes, he recently won the TMG Cordon Bleu award. His book, Indian Essence, is notable for its authentic recipes and he is currently writing his second book, this one for the increasingly health conscious who crave Indian cuisine with a contemporary twist.

His signature dish this season is the very-succulent slow cooked lamb roganjosh, which he reveals, “Is prepared using the shoulder cut of the lamb. It is vacuum-packed with the marinade and spices and then slowly cooked for 48 hours and served with its own au jus, a procedure that deglazes the roasting pan’s leftover sauce to achieve the intensity of the flavour. “I am a fan of slow cooking and believe it enhances the flavour of most dishes. Recently, I was in Malaysia and was both fascinated and inspired to see how they use the ginger flower in their cuisine.”

We met at his newly-opened, trendy terrace bar and restaurant, Colony, which is inspired by Colonial Asian cuisine and serves high end small plates and still gives the option to sample main courses. The place has a buzzy vibrant atmosphere, making it ideal for after-work cocktails and nibbles. Kochchar is a big time fan of Indian icon, Amitabh Bachchan who he mentions, “inspired at least two generations. I grew up watching his films. He instilled a motivation in me to do good and was like a Dronacharya figure. To cook for him in my restaurant, Benares, was humbling. Mr Bachchan had been honoured with a doctorate degree and he arrived with a couple of his friends to celebrate at the restaurant. It’s against my business rules and we never offer complimentary cuisine but we decided to do it for him that one time. At the end of the meal, I congratulated him and told him that the dinner was on the house, but he insisted on paying. He joked that the next time he would bring his whole family and then take me up on the offer! Of course he never came back. He is a fan of simple Indian cuisine and enjoyed dal, bhindi and roti that evening. It was an unforgettable moment for me.”

Philip Howard
A truly charming Englishman, who has achieved serious recognition through the sheer quality of his cooking, Philip Howard has earned his co-owned restaurant, The Square, two Michelin stars. Always in the kitchen, unlike many other chefs who relish their celebrity status rather than their creations, he is refreshingly sincere and his cuisine is perceived as modern progressive French.

The Square displays high ceilings and long silk curtains and is spot-lit to highlight the abstract colourful art on the walls. Howard says, “I am an eater and I think only about food from an eating point of view. It’s my stomach-led approach that inspires me. I am not stimulated by technology, innovation or trying to be progressive in any way. We are a top-end restaurant so there has to be some intelligence to the cooking here. But ultimately it’s all about trying to cook food that’s just delicious to eat.”

Howard started his career after university and worked with Marco Pierre White, at his restaurant Harveys. He learnt about shellfish cooking there, especially shellfish mousses. He says, “It’s something I had learnt to cook then?and it’s stayed with me. I put that shelffish mousse mixture into a ravioli and cooked it. It has sweetness, clarity of flavour, texture and is luxurious and comforting. I continuously try new things but the simplest and most delicious dish is the crab lasagna served with a delicate shellfish cappuccino. We buy the largest, best Cornish male crabs and we use only the claw meat and mix it with scallops that come from the Orkney Islands. The ingredients are all flown down every day and are incredibly fresh.”

In his earlier years, Howard worked for the Roux Brothers and enjoyed every minute of it. However, it was a meal that he had then at Harveys, that shaped his career. He remembers today, “It blew me away. I knew then very clearly what I wanted to try and do. I have been significantly influenced by Marco Pierre White and Simon Hopkinson. I worked for a year at his restaurant, Bibendum. He was absolutely instrumental in showing me the importance of simplicity and flavour. A lot of chefs get caught up about how a dish is packaged and often get excited about how a raw product is transformed and presented as a finished main dish. Most customers are only concerned about the food they are eating. Simon taught me about the importance of that end product and ingredients. Also my business partner here at The Square, is someone who, because he sees things from the opposite perspective to me, has helped my career. We are completely different people in everything we do but together we achieve that balance that’s important. I eat a lot at the River Cafe and have admired Rosie Gray and Ruthie Rogers’ cooking for years.”

Olivier Limousin
A protégé of Joel Robuchon, Olivier Limousin has been influential in getting the haute restaurant, L’ Atelier De Joel Robuchon, its well-earned two Michelin stars. To experience the stellar chef’s show-stopping firepower, it’s best to go along with the concept of counter dinning here and experience Japanese-inspired dishes served with French finesse. It’s a gastronomic trapeze where creativity is balanced with perfected cooking skills. An open-plan kitchen deploys top-drawer ingredients to telling effect, making sure that the taste-buds are thoroughly exercised in minuscule bites.

We meet at the restaurant’s swish Le Salon Bar on the top floor. Limousin says, “For me, cooking depends on finding the freshest produce and only after we source the best ingredients every season, we carve our recipes. My signature dish is l’oeuf mollet et friand au caviar Oscietra (crispy rice battered soft poached egg with Oscietra caviar). The soft poached eggs are cooked with pasta with a cream and caviar sauce. This dish has an interesting combination and texture as the eggs are warm and crispy with the cold cream sauce. So you indulge in both flavours simultaneously. Also this season the baby lamb cutlets from the Pyrenees are in bite size portions but have an intense flavour and are cooked with a bit of butter, garlic and thyme and we serve it spooned with our famous mashed potatoes. Most of the recipes are tweaked and inspired, depending on the fresh high grade quality of the produce we get from small farms. I often do a last minute daily special dish based on the produce we get on that day and try to give the customer an exceptional dinning experience.

”After graduating from college, I worked with award-winning chef Philippe Groult in Paris for seven years and he mentored me and taught me the finishing touches of the craft. I then worked with Joel Robuchon and have been involved with their London restaurant right from the time it was conceptualised.” He mentions that he enjoys his job because, “I am passionate about cooking and we have an open plan kitchen so we get to see the satisfaction on the customer’s face straightaway. It’s an exclusive dining experience here and we have to ensure that we deliver and live up to expectations. I keep all my recipes catalogued and sometimes take inspiration from them but still have to change a few key ingredients as nowadays people want new flavours presented with light cuisine. I sit with my team and sous chef and we go through a process of evolving the dish. Only after it’s been perfected after two weeks, can we put it on the menu.”

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